Britney Spears: Singer's conservatorship case explained

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Britney Spears arrives at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards in New YorkImage source, Reuters
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Spears has lived under the guardianship agreement for 13 years

Many aspects of Britney Spears' finances and personal life have been controlled by her father and others for the past 13 years under a form of legal guardianship called a conservatorship.

It was set up in 2008, after the US pop star, known for hits like Oops I Did It Again! and Toxic, faced a public mental health crisis.

Why was the conservatorship set up?

The singer began behaving erratically in 2007 after her divorce from Kevin Federline was finalised and she lost custody of their two children.

A series of public incidents raised concern about her mental welfare, with the star making headlines for shaving her head and hitting a photographer's car with an umbrella.

In 2008, she was twice admitted to hospital under a temporary psychiatric assessment ruling, including after an incident in which she allegedly refused to surrender her sons in a stand-off involving police.

A temporary conservatorship was established around this time and made permanent later that year.

In recent court filings, her father Jamie's lawyers had said the conservatorship was "necessary to protect Britney in every sense of the word". They said: "Her life was in shambles and she was in physical, emotional, mental and financial distress."

What is the conservatorship?

Image source, Getty Images
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The conservatorship gives the singer's father (left) control over his daughter's personal affairs

A conservatorship is granted by a court for individuals who are unable to make their own decisions, like those with dementia or other mental illnesses.

Spears' conservatorship was split into two parts - one for her estate and financial affairs, the other for her as a person.

Jamie Spears was in charge of both parts but stepped down as his daughter's personal conservator in 2019 citing health reasons, replaced by a court-appointed care professional.

Mr Spears was suspended as conservator of her financial estate in September 2021, replaced by an accountant chosen by Britney and her lawyer.

In the years under the conservatorship, Spears released three albums, held a successful Las Vegas residency and made numerous television appearances, including a stint as a judge on the US X Factor.

What does the conservatorship control?

Image source, Getty Images
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Spears has been on an indefinite work hiatus since cancelling a Las Vegas residency in January 2019

The conservatorship has power over her finances and career decisions plus major personal matters such as her visits with her teenage sons and whether she can get remarried.

She told a court in June: "I want to be able to get married and have a baby. I was told right now in the conservatorship I am not able to get married and have a baby." The conservators wouldn't let her have her birth control removed, she claimed.

She also said she was forced to go on tour, made to take medication she didn't want and go into rehab.

Court records obtained by The New York Times showed that its reach even extended to the colour of her kitchen cabinets.

A documentary made by the newspaper also alleged that the singer's phone and bedroom had been bugged by security staff working for her father.

Timeline: The key dates

First taste of stardom

Britney Spears, 16, catapults to the top of global pop charts with her debut single ...Baby One More Time.

The teenage Spears generated both controversy and a loyal fandom
Image caption The teenage Spears generated both controversy and a loyal fandom Image copyright by Getty Images

More than 20 years later, her debut album of the same name remains the best-selling album by a teenage solo artist.

Personal struggles burst into public view

Spears is hounded by the press amid a tumultuous custody dispute with ex-husband Kevin Federline, allegations that she is an unfit mother and questions about her mental health.

Spears was often pictured fleeing from tabloid photographers
Image caption Spears was often pictured fleeing from tabloid photographers Image copyright by Getty Images

Amid the tabloid frenzy, she is captured on camera shaving her head. A few days later, she smashes a paparazzo’s SUV repeatedly with an umbrella.

Spears’ father becomes her conservator

After stints in hospital and rehab, Spears’ father Jamie petitions a Los Angeles court to place his daughter under a temporary conservatorship. He is charged with making decisions about her career, as well as her estate and financial affairs.

The conservatorship is extended indefinitely later that year.

Spears leaving a restaurant in Beverly Hills with her father Jamie
Image caption Spears leaving a restaurant in Beverly Hills with her father Jamie Image copyright by Getty Images

Las Vegas residency

Despite being unable to handle her own affairs, Spears continues to work. After rehabilitating her image with a successful seventh studio album and several appearances on television, she begins a four-year concert residency in Las Vegas.

Spears onstage at the Planet Hollywood resort in Las Vegas
Image caption Spears onstage at the Planet Hollywood resort in Las Vegas Image copyright by Getty Images

Tussling over the conservatorship

Spears says she is taking a break from work because of her father’s health issues. Later in the year, Jamie Spears steps away as her conservator temporarily, citing his poor health.

Britney Spears indicates through her lawyers that she no longer wants her father to be involved in handling her career. A lawyer says Spears is “afraid of her father” and will not return to the stage as long as he retains control.

Framing Britney Spears film premieres

A New York Times documentary about the pop star’s rise and fall, as well as about her treatment by the media, generates mass public interest in her conservatorship.

Britney speaks out

Supporters of Britney Spears outside the courthouse in Los Angeles
Image caption Supporters of Britney Spears outside the courthouse in Los Angeles Image copyright by Getty Images

In explosive court testimony, Britney Spears alleges she was drugged, forced to perform against her will and prevented from having more children under the conservatorship.

She says she will not perform again while her father retains control over her career, and officially requests for him to be replaced as her conservator.

Father plans to stand down

Jamie Spears says he is ready to step down as his daughter's conservator “when the time is right" and pledges to participate in an "orderly transition”.

He later asks the court if the conservatorship itself should continue, saying his daughter should be given the chance to manage her own affairs.

Father suspended as conservator

At a court in Los Angeles, a judge suspends Jamie Spears from the legal arrangement that gave him control over his daughter’s life.

What has Britney Spears said?

The singer "has been faced with a decade-long nightmare, Kafkaesque nightmare orchestrated by her father and others", her lawyer said in September.

In her court appearance in June, the star asked the judge to end the "abusive" arrangement and said she was "traumatised".

"This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good," she said, speaking remotely. "I deserve to have a life."

She has also thanked fans who campaigned to #FreeBritney for their support.

Image source, Reuters
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Fans of the pop star have gathered outside court for hearings about her conservatorship

What has Jamie Spears said?

Mr Spears has said he loves his daughter "unconditionally" and had "tried to do what is in her best interests".

Following his daughter's court testimony, his lawyer said he was "sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain".

Yet he denied Mr Spears was responsible for the restrictions apparently placed on his daughter's private life and requested an inquiry into the testimony.

Following Britney's petition in July to have him replaced, Mr Spears agreed to step down as her conservator, and later asked the court to consider whether the conservatorship itself should continue.

"Through the conservatorship, Britney has been able to return to a path towards stability in all of these phases of her life," his lawyer said in early November. "The mission has been successful and it is now time for Britney to re-take control of her life."

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July 2021: What we can all learn from Britney Spears’ case

What next for Britney?

The star will begin a new chapter of her life, including getting married to her fiancé Sam Asghari without needing the approval of her conservators.

The legal dispute with her father is likely to continue after the conservatorship ends, however.

In July, Spears said she was prepared to "press charges" against her father. "I have to get rid of my Dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse," she said.

Conservatorship abuse can involve financially exploiting or imposing excessive personal restrictions on someone in your care.

Court documents revealed by the New York Times in June showed the star was given an allowance of $2,000 per week, while her father's salary as conservator was about $16,000 per month, plus money for office space rental and a percentage of various deals signed for his daughter.

The singer's lawyer has accused her father of financial misconduct and "reaping millions of dollars from his daughter's estate".

In September, he told reporters he had "serious questions" about "potential misconduct, including conflicts of interest, conservatorship abuse and the evident dissipation of Ms Spears fortune", and vowed a "top-to-bottom" examination of documents relating to the case.